Author's note:

This is taken from the start of episode 234 of the manga so if you want to avoid any spoilers for the anime, you've been warned.

Naruto sat quietly upon a windowsill as he watched people wander past, dealing with their own private lives. He blankly watched them with a look of resigned contemplation upon his features. He remembered the day that Sasuke had left the village and Naruto had failed, in conflict, to return the Uchiha back to Konoha. His failure to prevent Sasuke from going to Orochimaru was compounded by the villagers' response. They blamed the incident on Naruto and that it was his influence on Sasuke that made him leave. Naruto sighed dejectedly. He had been too weak to bring Sasuke back; he failed in his mission and the village blamed him for it all.

Grunting in annoyance at the majority of the villagers' intense loathing of him, Naruto needed to be alone. He needed room to offload the weight of the villagers' criticisms. Leaving the building, he walked slowly down the street with his head down trying to avoid the angry glances of shopkeepers and customers alike. The loss of Sasuke wouldn't have been as bad if Chouji and Neji hadn't died during the rescue attempt. Their funerals had seemed to unite the citizens in a universal hatred of Naruto, after all it was his fault Sasuke had left and the two Genins had perished.

Without aim, Naruto finally found himself standing upon the head of one the Hokages where he could look out over the whole village oblivious to his scrutiny far below. A single ruddy tear slowly made its way down his face.

I tried everything to get them to like me, to appreciate my worth, to recognize my value to the community. Damn it, I shed blood for the people of this village. Why do I deserve this unfair treatment? I owe them nothing. Nothing except years of oppression. They always hated me, always blamed me for misfortune. I was treated as a blight upon Konoha.

"Look down there..." a deep voice commanded.

With slow awareness, Naruto realized that the voice had come from within him. Slightly surprised, he realised that it was the Demon fox, the creature whose fate seemed to be tied with his own.

"Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?" the voice continued. "If I offered you knowledge and power for every dot that stopped - would you really, young child, tell me to keep my wisdom? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?" The voice inquired, quietly, calculatingly. "... Free of remorse, young child."

"... Free of remorse." The words echoed in Naruto's mind. Did he dare to trust this demon? Did he trust the villagers? Whom could he trust? Why, when Naruto needed it, did people seem to hate him most? He reflected, saddened blue eyes surveying the relative peace of the bustling township.

The demon fox could feel that the child was unsettled. To Kyuubi, the chance to corrupt his container could not be passed up, and this was the first time that his vessel had been so unstable; thirteen years he had waited for this chance. Probing the child's mind gently, he chuckled to himself as Naruto contemplated the words that had been told to him. However, the demon had no urge to force the child to decide and finally relented. "There is no need to decide now, young one," he almost hummed soothingly, in a manipulatory tone, "You can take as long as you want, I will await your reply." However, the demon fox smiled to himself. After thirteen long years of preparation, he had many other surprises in store to utterly destroy the vulnerable boy.

Naruto peered down at the ground, watching; the nine-tails had offered him incredible power in exchange for eliminating a few dots. Those dots hadn't shown him the slightest hint of human dignity. Where was the respect he felt he justly deserved serving the village? Naruto felt the anger slowly rise in him. He wanted revenge. They had treated him so badly; their accusations deserved to bear fruit. The fox would assist him in that regard. They should be respecting me, he thought. His fists clenched. he would silence them, each one that ridiculed him. He would gain the demon's sagacity by destroying them. He smirked to himself. He would become more powerful whilst his critics were silenced in turn.

Almost like a slap in the face, he realized what he was thinking. His hand slowly shifted to the necklace around his neck given to him by Tsunade, the fifth Hokage.

"No," Naruto murmured, "There are people in this village that are as close to family as I have. There will be no deal, demon." He spat the final word. Standing he found himself shaking violently. In many ways, he had never had such a conflict of emotions. Steadying himself, he slowly shuffled off the Hokage's face, burying his hands deeply into the orange jacket he wore. He hung his head. He needed guidance and no one was willing to provide it.

The sun had soon retreated behind the walls of Konoha and the streets had darkened. Alone, a single figure quietly moved. It stopped, turned, and entered a building. Naruto locked the door to his apartment and slowly changed for rest. Throughout, he had kept the same face of reserved sadness. Looking around the spartan place, Naruto wondered whether his life was as empty as his abode. His eyes slowly settled upon a slightly dust-covered picture, his only photograph.

Staring back at him were the smiling faces of Kakashi, Sakura, Sasuke and himself. They all looked so carefree, so... happy... he was forced to admit. He just stared at the picture. Where had everything gone wrong? Was it his fault? Had he really chased Sasuke away with their incessant rivalry? Naruto replaced the picture and turned it face down. There was no group seven. Sasuke was gone, Sakura had only ever had eyes for Sasuke, and Kakashi had left Naruto for Sasuke when he was training for the final part of the Chuunin exam. Naruto had been the outcast in the group, as he was in the village. Bitterly pushing the photo away on its shelf, he turned and went to bed.

Sleep came slowly. He tossed and turned, before finally settling into a light, dream-filled sleep. Kyuubi smiled inwardly.

Naruto found himself standing in a darkened room, watching himself. Next to his dreaming self, Kyuubi slowly appeared. Taking a step backwards, Naruto raised his arms, was he safe in his dreams? Could the demon fox attack him?

The demon's eyes settled on the child. Pathetic. He looked back at the scene that was being portrayed. "Watch." He commanded to the blonde.

Naruto began to watch the scene. The demon began to narrate to him. "You have no friends in this village. No one wants you," A scene of Iruka flashed before the pair. "If he cared for you, why did he fail you at the academy?" The demon's voice rumbled a slight sound of sadistic glee entering its voice. "Why didn't he protect you from the ridicule of your class? Why, when you needed help, did he look down on you?" The fox leaned towards Naruto, "He did not care for you, he was afraid of you. He was afraid of what you possessed. A desperate man will say anything to save himself." Kyuubi uttered as the scene of Naruto defeating Mizuki by use of the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu flashed before the boy.

The scene went dark. Naruto was shaking his head. "No, he wouldn't. He wouldn't betray my trust. He recognized me, didn't he?" Naruto looked at the demon. The demon's face came closer.

"Did he ever believe in you? He could have passed you at the academy, Naruto" Kyuubi spoke his name. "Has he ever recognized your dream of becoming Hokage?" The demon inquired rhetorically. "Naruto, if you had been older and wiser, you would have seen through his veiled lie. He wanted you to amount to nothing. He only promoted you from the academy as an afterthought for saving his life." Kyuubi said, enjoying the conflict upon the child's face.

The scene abruptly changed and Jiraiya's face appeared. Kyuubi continued his commentary "Jiraiya never wanted you to train. He ran from you when you demanded to be trained. He avoided you. He only accepted you for training when you satisfied his demands." Naruto watched on... The Kyuubi was right; Jiraiya had had no interest in Naruto. "He spent weeks ignoring you, laughing at your inability to summon. He cared little for your training, Naruto."

Naruto reached out with a hand towards Jiraiya. No, it couldn't be true, he thought. Jiraiya had trained him. He defeated Neji, hadn't he? He was shaken from this nadir by a chuckling Kyuubi.

"Foolish child. It was me that gave you the power you needed to fight Neji," Kyuubi grinned maliciously. "Jiraiya gave you nothing. He wanted you to remain weak." Naruto looked up at the demon towering over him. "I protected you. I gave you the power to fight your enemies. I helped you regardless of you wanting it." The scenes changed once again to flash images of Haku, of Orochimaru, of summoning Gamabunta, of defeating Neji, of the fight with Sasuke.

"Ku ku ku, you are weak, aren't you, young one? You should be thanking me."

The words from the battle with Sasuke came back hauntingly; Naruto looked up and began to speak stuttering slightly "You saved my life. You gave me unimaginable power. Why?"

"Because I was the only one who cared about you, Naruto."

Everything went dark and Naruto suddenly found himself facing the cage that the Kyuubi was sealed in. "Tsunade never cared for your abilities. You were simply a substitute for her lost ones." The demon's voice echoed from behind the cage. "You have never truly been acknowledged by anyone. No one cared about you, Naruto," the fox approached the bars of the prison and lowered his head to Naruto's level. "Except me."

Naruto awoke suddenly sweat had drenched his bed sheets and his clothes were dampened. He stood, the night was still dark and Naruto felt for the light switch.

Kicking off his bed sheets he slowly made his way to the bathroom to rid his clothes and to wash. I was used. I had trusted them, I had placed my faith in them, but they used me, they didn't care for my goodwill. I was a burden upon them. They deserve to suffer retribution. I will show them. I am no burden. I won't be used by them anymore. Splashing water on himself from the basin, he looked up into the mirror, and for the briefest of moments his eyes flashed a deep crimson red, with a slit down the middle. Blinking he looked again, except all he saw was the haunted blue of his eyes staring back.

Shaking his head, and putting the vision down to nerves and exhaustion, he turned to the shower. The cleansing effect the water had on him gave him a certain peace of mind. He would confront those he foolishly trusted and would beat the truth out of them, if he had to...

Kyuubi had other plans, meanwhile. He realized that Naruto would approach his peers and Kyuubi knew that they would quell the dissent in his mind, or they would cease him from leaving. He had to get Naruto away from the village. Only then could he complete his slow corruption and destruction of the child's ideals. Laughing inwardly, he thought of the one whom sealed him, the Yondaime. Kyuubi chuckled, you may have sealed me, but Naruto will become my vessel of destruction, you shall see your folly as your precious village is destroyed by my Naruto.

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Itachi and Kisume had been camping out in an old abandoned cottage about a day's journey from Konoha. The recent uproar caused by Itachi's brother's actions had made the villagers nervous, and thus the Akatsuki members had to lay low whilst the township of Konoha returned to normality. That meant a few weeks living in dingy quarters with holes in the roof, and the ever-present musky smell of decomposing wood.

Of course, this meant that Itachi was positively ropeable and Kisume was about to go on a massacre. Neither of them were pleased with the situation. They mostly hid during the day and avoided bringing attention to themselves. During this night, neither member slept much. Kisume cracked his knuckles.

"Screw this, Itachi, let's go get the brat!" he snarled. He stood, not caring whether Itachi followed him or not.

Itachi stood wordlessly, and gave Kisume a deadly glare. The missing mist ninja took a step back, his own eyes widening in slight fear. Itachi then walked past Kisume and out of the hut.

"Hurry up, Kisume. I'm not staying here any longer to wait for you." Itachi called over his shoulder as he disappeared into the night.

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Naruto began dressing; slowly he slid on his orange jacket, and zipped it up. His hand reached out and he picked up the shining piece of metal attached to the navy blue cloth. Picking it up slowly, he found himself wondering whether there was any point in serving a village that resented his existence. As if to answer, the Kyuubi offered him an alternative.

"Leave this village, child, I shall train you with all the power you could want. Leave this village that doesn't realize the value of your existence. You can become more powerful without them hindering your efforts. They want you to be weak so they can despise you. So they can mislead you." Kyuubi smiled at the gall of his own manipulation.

Naruto stood there, the forehead protector in his hand. With a slow deliberation, he walked to the window and drew it open. Pausing for a moment he said, "Kyuubi..." Naruto couldn't believe he was going to do this. "I'll let you train me. Never again will I allow myself to be mistreated by so many..." There seemed to be no reply and Naruto placed a leg upon the windowsill to leap out of as he ran from his home.

"Wait." The voice of the demon ordered. "First, you must do one thing with the Forehead Protector in your hand." Naruto stopped and looked at the adornment. "Take a Kunai and put a scratch through it. Then leave it here. You must cast off the shackles this village has placed around your wrists." Kyuubi uttered with authority.

Naruto looked at the simple device. Defacing it in such a way would make him an enemy of the village. His home. Naruto began to reconsider his choice. He couldn't outright denounce the village as his home.

"Do it." The demon barked impatiently. "You owe this village nothing but revenge for restraining you. You have potential that the village is prejudiced against. Don't accept their ideals, child!" Kyuubi commanded.

With a quick flick of his wrist, Naruto had placed a deep gouge through the symbol upon the protector. Turning back to his room, he threw the forehead protector at the wall and watched as it landed in a small heap on the ground. Keeping to the shadows, he made his way out of the village.

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Kakashi was to meet up with Sakura and Naruto for training that morning. He had to rebuild the broken relationship that Sakura and Naruto shared. Since Sasuke left, the two seemed to be at one another's throat. Sakura blamed the loss on Naruto, accusing him of letting Sasuke leave. In reply, Naruto accused Sakura of not acting at all, as she had stayed in the village during the chase of Sasuke.

However, as Kakashi arrived, he realized that Naruto was not present. "Where's Naruto?" he asked, crossing his arms.

Sakura shot a glare at her sensei, "How should I know? He's probably being a baka somewhere." She spat. Kakashi raised an eyebrow; it was unusual that he should ever be late for training. After waiting until midday, Kakashi was concerned. It was utterly unlike Naruto to leave people waiting. After dismissing Sakura, he went to the Hokage's tower, thinking that perhaps Tsunade had given Naruto a change of plans without alerting Kakashi to any change in arrangement.

After arriving, he politely knocked on the closed door to the Hokage's office. A muffled "enter" was heard and cautiously he opened the door. Behind a desk sat Tsunade, the fifth Hokage. She looked up to see the approaching figure of Kakashi. Smiling slightly, she returned to her work. Without looking up, she inquired, "How may I help you Kakashi?" The Jounin stopped and stood in front of the desk.

"Well I was hoping you could tell me where Naruto is. He didn't turn up for training today, so I was wondering if you'd changed his schedule without alerting me." Tsunade looked up from her work, her face creased with thought.

"No, I haven't given him any instructions." she looked slightly more puzzled. A moment of silence passed as both divulged this information. "You could visit his apartment. Perhaps he is there at the moment. It's possible that Naruto simply doesn't want anything to do with Sakura at the moment." She offered tentatively. Nodding, Kakashi began to leave, "Check the Ramen stand as well." She called after him. She sighed and returned to themounting pile of paperwork that she had in front of her.

Kakashi jumped from rooftop to rooftop as he made his way to Naruto's apartment. What are you getting at Naruto, by not showing up to training today? He pondered as he landed outside the door of Naruto's house. Knocking upon the door, he received no response. Trying the handle, he found it locked. Thinking quickly he remembered a window that may have been possible to open. Jumping, he was pleasantly surprised to see it was already open. Standing on the window frame, he peered inside.

The room was messy. Things appeared to have been strewn around carelessly. This was odd behavior for Naruto, whom was generally tidy. Stepping inside, he called out Naruto's name. There was no reply. With a sigh, he turned to leave when a glint of metal from the corner of his eye caught his attention. Walking over to it, he leant down to pick up what turned out to be a forehead protector. Looking at it, he was suddenly taken aback. Through the insignia of leaf was a deep gash. "Naruto! What have you done?" He turned and left the apartment hurriedly, he needed to get to the Hokage quickly, there was a chance yet that Naruto could be caught.

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Naruto was tired. He had had little sleep the previous night and had been retreating from Konoha for the better part of the day. Finally exhausted, he collapsed to the ground beside a large tree, which helped to cast a cooling shadow across the ground. "Demon fox," he asked tentatively "I've been running for hours. I'm tired, let me rest," he begged, annoyed at the fox's annoying persistence.

"Kyuubi." he corrected in deep rumble. Sighing agitatedly, he relented, "Very well. Rest for twenty minutes, no longer." Naruto groaned. "If you can no longer continue, then I'll use my chakra to force you along."

"Why are we in such a rush?" Naruto whined.

Seeing no reason not to answer, Kyuubi responded, "They will hunt you down, Naruto. That's why we are running from them. They will chase and destroy you. Such is their hatred of you." The fox explained to his young protégé. The demon had already set about shaping the naïve boy's mind. Smirking, he was pleasantly surprised to find that with an agonising slowness. Naruto began to trust the demon sealed within him.

The twenty minutes passed far too quickly for Naruto, and at the insistence of Kyuubi, he rose to his feet, despite his muscles protesting. He had been on the move for less than 10 minutes when a pang of hunger hit him. Naruto had been running without eating for the better part of a day, and his unhappy body was about ready to throw in the towel. Reading Naruto's thoughts, the demon slowly smiled.

"Are you ready for your first lesson, child?" Kyuubi growled.

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The look upon Tsunade's face was a disturbing mix of shock, sadness and a hint of anger. The defaced forehead protector rested on the desk in front of her. Already the important people of the village had been summoned to her office. This was a serious problem. Around her stood the slumped figures of those that had been closest to Naruto. There was an overall feeling of loss and sadness present in the room and it gave over to a sombre affair.

No one seemed to have any idea what had happened to Naruto. Akatsuki seemed the obvious culprits, but several things didn't match up. First, there was no forced break in to Naruto's apartment. If the Akatsuki had come to take Naruto, he had gone willingly; there were no signs of struggle. Everyone shivered at such a prospect. The theory was discarded, however. The leaving seemed too organized. If Akatsuki had come to the village to steal away one of the village's students, they would have been in more of a rush. Whatever caused Naruto to leave seemed more controlled. The boy had time to remove a few possessions; he had defaced his artifact of belonging. Although no one wanted to admit it, it seemed that Naruto had left of his own will.

The thing no one could understand was the gash through the forehead protector. Naruto had never shown great unrest with the village. True, the recent tragedy hadn't helped, but it still seemed unusual. He had never had wanderlust; it seemed that he had finally turned his back upon the village.

Tsunade dismissed the entourage of ninjas that was present. As the grumbling mass of bodies retreated down the hallway, Tsunade turned back to three individuals that had remained behind. Iruka, Jiraiya, and Kakashi. "Bring him back. Do everything you have to." Uttered Tsunade. Wordlessly, the three left. They would have left regardless of Tsunade's wishes; however, as it was better to have her favor in the quest.

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A confused Naruto stood alone in a large meadow filled with cattle.

"Let me get this straight, Kyuubi." Naruto stared at the creature in front of him, "You want me to kill this animal? Why?"

The Demon was grinning, "The first part of your training is to learn to kill another living being," explained the fox. "You cannot become strong unless you become comfortable with death."

Hesitantly, Naruto drew a kunai from his pouch and readied himself to plunge the weapon into a bored complacent cow. Raising the weapon high, he looked away and began to bring the tool down, aiming for the beast's neck. "No." interrupted a voice. "Kill it with your bare hands." Naruto looked shocked as Kyuubi explained why. "Many times in battle you will not have your weapons or your tools at your disposal to kill with. You must utilise resourcefulness."

Naruto shook his head. "I am not going to kill for you, Kyuubi." he said, "I will not kill for your enjoyment, simply because you have been deprived for so long." Naruto said.

The demon raised an eyebrow; he hadn't expected this sort of resistance. "I don't need you to kill for me, Naruto, this is for you. Konoha will chase you and destroy you. You need to be prepared to take lives in order to retain your freedom."

Ignoring the demon, Naruto placed the kunai back into its holster and turned to leave.

Kyuubi sensed Naruto's rejection. "Perhaps you need a little... persuasion." He smirked maliciously as he began to fill Naruto with a subtly different chakra from the normal tribute he gave the youth.

Naruto felt the sudden rush of power as the demon fox's chakra surged through his body. Opening crimson colored eyes, something bubbled to surface in his mind. Hate. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a bloodied fist, seemed to flow through Naruto like an electric current, turning the youth against his own will into a grimacing, bloodthirsty lunatic. Yet the rage he felt was abstract, undirected emotion, which could be switched from one object to another.

He dove towards the unwary bovine and felt a savage satisfaction as his Kyuubi enhanced fist raked along the cow's leather hide. His other fist met with less resistance and ripped through the hide, leaving blood to slowly flow onto the ground. His jaws clamped around the throat of the beast and after a brief moment, his vision was awash with red as his fangs tore through the cow's artery.

Kyuubi gave a slow sigh of bliss as Naruto continued to butcher the now prostate form of the cow. The demon enjoyed the death after such an absence of it for the time he had resided sealed within Naruto. Slowly, he stemmed the flow of chakra channeling through the boy, awaiting the slew of emotions from him once he realized what he had done.

Naruto's chest rose as he began panting at the exertion. The blind rage slowly removed itself until only a crouching Naruto remained. Looking at the mutilated carcass, Naruto's other suppressed emotions flooded back. He stumbled backwards slightly, repulsed by the sight of his own efforts. His senses were being assaulted. Blood covered the length of his arms. It was still warm. What disturbed Naruto more was the bitter, coppery taste of the cow's blood upon his tongue. The ruby fluid slowly trickled to his chin, where it dripped off onto the ground. The air seemed laden with the sickly smell of freshly spilt blood.

Naruto sat there, shock finally asserting itself as the dominant emotion. "How could you?" Naruto stammered out, the shock evident in his voice.

Kyuubi chortled. "I didn't, Naruto. You did. This is all your doing, child. I simply provided you with the means." Silence ensued from the boy.

"You enjoyed it, didn't you?" The Kyuubi spoke after a few minutes as the blood began to cool and coagulate. "The feeling of overwhelming power. The ecstasy of the kill. The knowledge that the creature's pitiful life was within your hands. You held the power to decide between life and death." the Kyuubi hummed. He could feel it from the boy; the act had awakened a certain bloodlust in Naruto. "And you loved it."

Naruto shook his head in disagreement, yet he knew, deep down, that the demon was right. Years of pent up hate, anger and resentment fueled a fire that made him desire blood.

The Kyuubi grinned, "This will become one of your most powerful weapons, Naruto." He urged, as he fanned the flames, helping it consume the flailing child. "Embrace it. Satisfy it." More significantly; almost like a piece of silverware losing its shine, he felt Naruto's innocence beginning to fade.

Slowly and unwillingly, Naruto was becoming nothing better than a tool of the Demon fox. "You want to kill again, don't you Naruto?" Kyuubi's eyes narrowed. "Show me."

Naruto stood slowly, slightly unsteady, and more than a little emotionally unstable. He exhaled heavily. "I killed something!" He exclaimed still having difficulty coming to terms with his own actions. "Tha... That was... amazing!" the boy stuttered out. Glacial blue eyes began to peer across the meadow where the rest of the cattle had conglomerated after retreating with fear when Naruto had killed one of their brethren. Naruto took a few steps towards them, his mouth twisting into a sadistic grin.

"Give me your claws and teeth, Kyuubi." Naruto demanded.

"If you require them too often, Naruto, they will become a permanent part of you." The Kyuubi spoke, with mock worry in his voice as he allowed his chakra to physically enhance the boy. The demon knew that Naruto would retain the vulpine attributes, regardless of will. Naruto's body could only stand so much mutation before it would be no longer able to revert to its original state. Kyuubi didn't care. As far as he was concerned, the weapons had been his gift to Naruto.

"First lesson successful," Kyuubi smirked to himself. "Second lesson; rinse and repeat the first lesson."

Naruto gave a guttural scream and ran towards the panicking cattle.

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It hadn't taken long to find Naruto's scent, Kakashi had seen to that by summoning Pakkun. The canine had picked up the youth's distinct scent as it trailed out of the village. The three ninjas were now far from Konoha, leaving the village far behind to disappear into the sunset. Unlike the child before them, Jiraiya had summoned a frog to transport them. This not only left them still with energy, it also meant that they didn't need to take breaks for resting.

The three said little between them, only Iruka had said more than a few words. He seemed to be grieving Naruto's disappearance the greatest. I will brink him back, he vowed. I shall return him to Konoha at any cost, to anyone. He smacked a fist into his other hand, angry at the powerless situation he was in. Finally, the sun retreated behind the trees, and a cooler twilight began to settle upon the trees and grass.

Sighing with slight disappointment in not having caught up to Naruto, they stopped to discuss further plans and to eat.

"We must continue searching for him." demanded Iruka.

"No, we must rest, we put ourselves at risk if we come across him and we are not alert. We still don't know whether he has met up with protectors or whether he has tricked us into a trap. Rushing about will not accomplish this mission any easier than by stalking him." Jiraiya countered.

"Are you being ridiculous?" Iruka almost shouted. "Every hour he spends away from our grasp makes him more difficult to track. We should pursue him down tonight; I doubt that his protectors – if he has any, will be any sort of a match for us." Iruka argued.

Kakashi, whom had been quiet throughout the argument, suddenly murmured, "I've lost two students now." Iruka and Jiraiya both looked over at him. "Perhaps this is all my fault. I showed Naruto too much neglect and pampered Sasuke when he deserved to be put back in line." he sighed.

"No, Kakashi," Jiraiya rebutted. "This was Orochimaru's fault. He made Sasuke leave the village and I'm sure, indirectly led to Naruto leaving. No, Kakashi, none of this is your fault. If anything, I'm as much at fault, for not helping Naruto enough." Jiraiya muttered.

Silence returned to the group. Finally, after a few minutes of no sound louder than the whisper of leaves in the breeze, Iruka finally compromised on the following of Naruto. "We'll continue for another hour. If nothing shows up, we rest.

Sighing, Jiraiya relented. "Alright, one hour." They stood and continued walking. Kakashi was silent as he continued brooding, berating himself for the incidents.

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Naruto had finally finished his rampage and had sated his bloodlust. Finally, he had found a creek and bathed. Not long after he curled up against the base of a tree to sleep. Naruto was unhappy at the prospect of sleeping on the ground, however Kyuubi had insisted upon it, assuring the boy that by finding a hotel he was far more likely to be tracked down. The argument had been short, with the fox obviously winning, and as a result, Naruto was roughing it.

For the second night in a row, he began to dream.

Naruto was walking in a world of black, being stalked by his shadow. He suddenly stopped and turned right. The shadow also stopped. However, the shadow seemed to want to go left. Naruto looked over his shoulder at an invisible being, anger present upon his features as he pushed harder to go right. The shadow seemed locked into its decision to go left, however. As the struggle continued, the shadow began to spread, increasing in size and shape. Finally, Naruto gave up the struggle and followed the spreading shadow, his face showing resigned defeat.

As they continued, the shadow continued to increase in magnitude, it's presence becoming almost overbearing compared to the small Naruto following diligently. It stopped suddenly, and turned around to face Naruto. Naruto suddenly realised that the shadow was the demon fox, yet he seemed not to care. He just stood there, a face of impassive boredom. The shadow swirled until it surrounded the boy, almost as if the fox felt affronted by this.

Naruto felt a choking claustrophobia and began to run to the left trying to escape the demon's shadow. The shadow surged towards him in the same direction he was going. He turned left again and ran, until shadow began to surge towards him. Desperately, he turned again, and ran, hoping to outrun the shadow. He was stopped again as the shadow began to charge at him. He turned around to see that the shadow he'd been running from had caught up and Naruto was left with nowhere else to run. Falling to his knees, he began screaming in fear, as the shadow came closer and closer. It was crushing him, he could feel it, a pure and unmerciful pain wracked his body, Naruto hugged himself, a slight sobbing as he lay down.

The shadow was his.

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"Gone?" Itachi questioned, dropping the lifeless corpse of a man onto the floor. Itachi and Kisame had been trying to kidnap Naruto for the past few months. After a failed first attempt, they were back again to steal the child away during the night. They were understandably angry to find out their vestige had run away from the village the night previous. "Where did he go?" Itachi demanded, picking a wailing woman up from the ground.

"I... I don't know. He just disappeared!" she shrieked.

Itachi frowned angrily and his grip upon the woman's throat became tighter.

"Wait, wait," she screamed, her voice raising an octave in fear. "Three ninjas left to search for him, earlier toady."

Itachi's grip loosened slightly. "What did they look like?"

Sobs from the woman made her difficult to understand. "I don't know, one had a mask, covering part of his face, another had... spiky white hair, he rode a frog. Please let me live!" She begged, as the sobs wracked her body.

Her body went limp in Itachi's arms and he let her drop to the ground next to her husband. "I can't let you live," he spoke to the corpse, "We can't have you telling the village we came looking for Naruto." he turned and with a glance at Kisame he left the building.

Kisame crunched his knuckles and with a final glance at the dead couple followed Itachi.

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The group of three Shinobi finally entered a small town; many of the houses were darkened, indicating that the residents had retired for the night. There was only one lit building and from the sounds that emanated from within, it was obvious that it was a tavern.

"I might go in and see if I can find anything out concerning our missing child." Jiraiya announced finding himself needing a stiff drink. Kakashi was already leaning with his back against a tree, his eyes closed. Iruka was trying to start a fire with a small bundle of sticks he'd scrounged up. Neither seemed interested in Jiraiya's comment.

The interior of the tavern was smoky and smelt of old alcohol. Along one wall a fire blazed projecting heat into the room. The place had about half a dozen locals sitting down one end, they were arguing about something boisterously. The bartender looked slightly bored, and was cleaning glassware. A few other individuals were strewn around the bar, mostly keeping to themselves, wishing to remain anonymous. Jiraiya approached the bar and the bartender came over to serve him.

"Bottle of Sake" Jiraiya said and the bartender went to collect it. Upon returning, Jiraiya leant closer and inquired; "I don't suppose you've heard any strange rumors of a child coming through this village today, have you?"

The Bartender stepped back and looked over Jiraiya. "You too eh?" he grunted.

"Huh?" Jiraiya said confused.

The bartender pointed out a figure sitting alone in the corner of the room, minding a drink. "That bloke asked the same thing you did, go talk to him, anything I know, he knows." With that, the bartender picked up the money left upon the bar and pocketed it, there was a healthy tip from Jiraiya present as well.

Jiraiya turned and looked over at the table, An elderly man sat there, he had a flowing white beard and mustache, which trailed down to about waist height he had bushy eyebrows and his hair, also white was tied up upon his head. He was not exceptionally tall and had relatively lithe features. He wore an almost flawless white robe. It was almost spotless.

Jiraiya sighed slightly, wondering whether it was indeed the same child at all that they were searching for. He sat the bottle of Sake down upon the table and quietly sat next to the man. Wasting no trivialities, Jiraiya spoke.

"Apparently, you are looking for a young child." he asked, cracking the seal on the bottle.

The old man regarded him for a moment before answering. "Perhaps I am. Perhaps it is no child at all." He answered cryptically.

Jiraiya turned from the bottle. "A child ran away from our village, perhaps less than 24 hours ago. He is dear to many in the village and we have been sent to bring him home." Jiraiya elaborated, leaving many things unspoken.

The mysterious man looked at him. "Takashi Ozaki." He said, not offering a hand. "I believe we may be seeking the same child, but for different reasons." He murmured, stroking his long beard in thought. "You are a summoning man, are you not?" Takashi asked, already knowing the answer.

Jiraiya's eyebrows rose slightly in surprise. "Jiraiya." he pointed to himself. "I am able to summon. If I may be so bold to ask how you knew that?"

The man smiled. "Perhaps I should explain some things to you." he sighed as though it was all very tiring. "There is the world that we live in." he traced a line upon the table

The man smiled. "Perhaps I should explain some things to you." he sighed as though it was all very tiring. "There is the world that we live in." he traced a line upon the table. "And the world of summoned creatures and demons is here." he drew a line parallel to the first one. "When summoning occurs, a being from here," he pointed to the second line, "is transported here." he pointed to the first line. "However, a couple of days ago, these lines touched one another. That is why I am here, trying to deduce why such a thing has occurred." he paused for a moment to let Jiraiya understand. "I am looking for the cause of this unusual phenomenon. A young child, and yet, something else."

Jiraiya knew whom the man sought, but had to ask anyway. "Whom are you seeking, Takashi?"

"Uzumaki Naruto."